Despite the COVID-19 pandemic restricting the ability for clubs to tour and AFL Asia sanctioned tournaments being postponed to date, AFL Asia clubs have maintained a positive outlook, developed innovative strategies to engage their players and focused on playing games and tournaments domestically where possible in their own backyard.
The Vietnam Swans are well-known for thinking outside their square and have approached the challenging climate in outstanding fashion by implementing a ‘North vs. South’ (Hanoi vs. Saigon) male and females multiple-code tri-series, which included Aussie Rules, Rugby, Gaelic and Touch Football. Round 1 was played in Hanoi on July 4th and amazingly had over 250 participants getting amongst the action.
Round 2 was planned to take place on the last Saturday in August, however it has been postponed due to a recent increase in active COVID-19 cases and a local full length scratch match in Saigon will fuel the need for footy for now. Round 3 is also up in the air given the recent increase in cases came from the central coastal region of Vietnam near Da Nang, the planned location for the tri-series decider.
The Vietnam Swans also have a Hanoi-based domestic league in the pipeline and we expect the new initiative to be launched in the coming weeks, which will ultimately fast-track their local development strategies and the development of a plethora of new AFLW players that has recently seen 18 Hanoi-based females on the training track.
The Cambodian Eagles, Apsaras and Cobras played in a historical doubleheader on July 25th that saw the Cambodian Eagles (expats) take on the Cambodian Cobras (local Khmer) and the local Khmer girls take on their Expat teammates in an Apsaras internal showdown game for the first time.
The mosquito-fleeted Cobras were fast out of the blocks before being outgunned by their experienced Eagles counterparts as the game progressed towards the pointy end, whilst the local Khmer Apsaras were comprehensive victors over the expat Apsaras in a stylish display by 6 goals.
The historical occasion and double-header games highlighted the growth and improvement in their local players and is a reward for effort for their local development strategies that the Cambodian clubs have implemented over the years.
The increase in domestic football has served the region well during the current pandemic and has consolidated the momentum and upward growth of the Thailand Tigers, who are kicking big goals on and off the field.
The ‘Red vs. Blue’ rivalry saw a 5 month absence of football in Thailand come to an end on July 11th, with regular fixtures keeping the Tigers engaged, focused and ready for the real deal once footy recommences more broadly across the region.
The Thailand Tigers are also one of many Asian-based teams who are taking on their locally based Gaelic team, with these annual scheduled games having more importance than ever this year.
The Jakarta Bintangs celebrated the Indonesian Independence Day with their annual fixture on August 15th and despite reduced numbers related to COVID-19 had a competitive hit-out with mixed local and expat teams. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many local Indonesians involved, whilst elusive veteran and club legend Paul Halliday wound back the clock with a sneaky couple of sausage rolls.
Whilst we are over in Indonesia, the Bali Geckos and Pink Geckos recommenced training on July 8th and despite the tourist haven being hit hard and many expats returning to their local shores, the proud clubs haven’t lost their passion and will go about rebuilding their playing stocks once normality is restored.
The Beijing Bombers are one club who have grown in numbers and resilience and have come out of post-COVID19 hitting the ground running, which has been highlighted by an increase in local players and women’s players on the training track. We certainly hope this can spawn solidarity to the Bombers and potentially see the start of a Chinese AFLW team moving forward.
Whilst on the subject of footy in China we mustn’t forget the Shanghai Tigers, who were literally the first Aussie rules team in the world to recommence footy training back on April 22nd, which is extraordinary as the rest of the world was headed towards shutdown mode at the time.
Both the Singapore Wombats and the Malaysian Warriors have been on the training track for the majority of this bi-monthly newsletter period, albeit in groups of 5 whilst adhering to social distancing restrictions. The sense of relief and having an outlet that training alone can provide has been a much appreciated boost to the two proud clubs, who are itching at the bit to transform their enthusiasm into a match day type situation and environment.
The biggest Auskick program in the world – Hosted and coordinated by the Singapore Sharks finally got their season back underway on August 2nd. Over 400 junior players had to remain patient throughout two planned postponement periods, but had smiles from ear to ear when their season finally recommenced!
The Hong Kong Dragons are proudly the biggest football club in Asia and had record numbers on the training track before a third wave of the coronavirus put their planned inaugural HAFL (Hong Kong AFL) domestic season to a grinding halt. We’re hopeful that training and more importantly the HAFL domestic season can eventually get off the ground in the back end of the year.
Plenty of AFL Japan clubs have been back into training over the past few months, but it is yet to be revealed as to whether an AFL Japan A League season will go ahead or not or whether an alternative option of a Japan Cup can be scheduled in October or November due to a secondary wave of COVID-19.
We all miss being able to travel and tour for games and tournaments throughout the region, but are making the most of what can be achieved on our home front and allows us to appreciate the many memories we’ve created on past tours and more importantly will give us a new sense of purpose, appreciation and fulfillment once travel restrictions have ultimately have been lifted on a permanent basis.